“You Don’t Have to Be Christian to Love”

Last month, I attended a local rally in support of refugees and immigrants. The rally was partly in response to the first version of Trump’s executive order, which banned immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries, and was later struck down in court.

One of the speakers at the rally was a local pastor. As part of her address, she wanted to sing. She asked those of that recognized the song to join in:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

As we finished, another voice shouted across the crowd: “You don’t have to be Christian to love!”

The song was written with ecumenical intent and speaks of Christian love for one another. That day, however, we were singing about the world knowing us by the love that we show to our fellow humans. I can’t speak for everyone, but I would guess that most of us who sang at the rally were singing about the Christianity we believe in. It’s a Christianity that has been made all but unrecognizable to us lately by those who support xenophobic policies and sent into office a candidate known by his outrageous and inflammatory statements.

I wish I could have spoken to the man who shouted out in response to our song. I didn’t want to explain what I meant by the song, I just wanted to say, “I’m sorry.” I wanted to apologize that the song made him feel like we were saying that only Christians show love. I wanted to say I’m sorry for the times Christians have communicated that we are some kind of exclusive channel for love to express itself in the world. I’m sorry for the ways I have believed the idea and the ways I have perpetuated it.

Christians don’t have an exclusive claim on love–or any other human characteristics, for that matter. We’re also not sole conduits for love and compassion. We hope and pray that the God we believe in grows these characteristics in us. We point to a specific source of love. But we don’t have some kind of special claim to it. Frankly, claiming that we do is both arrogant and ridiculous.

In some of my hardest moments, my strongest support has come from non-Christians. That’s not to say I haven’t been supported by fellow Christians. But it wasn’t only or always other believers. Generally, I have observed Christians and non-Christians alike be incredibly giving; I have observed Christians and non-Christians alike be incredibly selfish. We are all human–whoever or whatever we believe created us–and that means we all feel and show love.

I re-stumbled across this quote from blogger Zach Hoag recently:  “When it comes right down to it, no matter how majestic the theology and pristine the Christianity, if faced with a choice, I’ll choose basic human honesty every time. I’ll side with those who are suffering, who are wronged, who are oppressed, who are struggling, who are standing for what’s right.”

I identify more and more with those words with each passing day.

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